Chicago Sun-Times

Trains v. Planes: An argument

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Ever wonder why there isn't an easier way to get to a city 300 miles away without going through airport security? Train fans, especially those who have seen the efficient train service in Europe, have been wondering for years. Here's a link to an essay on the subject. Go to the April 21 entry under the "Cluster---- Nation" articles. Here's an excerpt:

"The airline industry is dying and absolutely no thought is being given to how people will get around this big country -- except to make the stupid assumption that we can just drive our cars instead."

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It's misleading to say that we as a people chose cars over trains without mentioning how automakers -- GM in particular, starting in the 1920s -- systematically (and successfully) bought, then closed, or similarly pushed as many rail lines out of business as they could. This happened both at the local level (electric streetcars) and in larger areas (interurban lines on both coasts, and just north of Chicago as well).

At one point the U.S. had a perfectly adequate and functioning rail infrastructure that fell primarily because of the actions of corporate interests -- not because we, as a public, simply decided one day that we preferred driving to riding trains.

More details are in the fairly fascinating article below:

The notion about this country so hung up on theirs cars is not correct by no means , if there was a good train system here in the united states, many people would just love to travel from A-B in the comfort of seening our country, enjoying great food and drink, and arriving at the next place on our trip all rested.
We are pouring a great deal of money in this war , and into countries that do not need it but take it anyway, why not go back to developing a train system that works, There was a great love affair for the trains , I know I was one of those as a child , and the world seem so much closer in my eyes way back then. but what do I know, I love trains, and I suppose there are many more out there just like me .

I'd like to reply to the excerpt that says "The airline industry is dying and absolutely no thought is being given to how people will get around this big country -- except to make the stupid assumption that we can just drive our cars instead"

We all know the soaring cost of fuel has sent some airlines to the grave and forced others to raise prices but it's ignorant to think the ailing airline industry will die. In business, when times get tough you grow, change, or die. The airlines are changing and they will grow again. The industry will not die. The flying public must accept the changes that will keep the airlines aloft. The airlines tried it your way and nearly killed themselves fighting to offer fares so low, they were impossible to maintain. The flying public needs to accept the actual cost of safe, modern, air transportation and learn the real value of taking a flight on a multi-million dollar aircraft.The Cost of living has increased rapidly over the last decade and lately fuel prices have skyrocketed. However, passengers continued to enjoy airfares equivalent to what they paid in the 70's. That was not sustainable and had to come to an end. The tradjedy of 9/11 put the finishing touch on that. Air travel could never be the same again.

People will simply have to make tougher decisions about why and where they travel considering the higher cost. That's the first part of the solution because it means people will need to make smarter choices - like where, when, and why to drive across town or across state lines. Many essays and stories have been written supporting a system of trains like those in Europe. However, American society was transformed by the freedom and flexibility of the automobile and cheap oil way back in the late 40's and 50's. That love affair with the automobile has never ended. Our nation invested it's resources in a national interstate highway system instead of a train network. Maintaining and upgrading that system still consumes vast resources. Pouring even more tax dollars into railroads despite an expensive war and a weak economy just doesn't make good sense. The next solution is (of course) to use less energy. Conservation is always easier, faster, and less costly to apply than developing new sources of energy. Finally, the long term solution is to develop widespread use of renewable energy for everything from vehicles to our houses and businessess.
It won't necessarily be 'easy' but it will be worth it. Haven't you heard; 'everything easy aint worth doin'?

Excellent. It's good to see the message getting out there more often that we need to start taking transporation issues much more seriously. (Aside: James Howard Kunstler was on The Colbert Report last week, promoting his recent speculative novel "World Made By Hand.")


Are your transp. thoughts limited to Chicago, or have you any about the now dead 40 y/o, $100+ million waste once known as IDOT's mistake near Peotone?

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This page contains a single entry by Mary Wisniewski published on May 8, 2008 10:33 AM.

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